Coronavirus: Woman pleads with unvaccinated to reconsider after husband’s double lung transplant

HOUSTON — A Houston man will soon go home from the hospital, after his six-month battle with COVID-19 ended in a double-lung transplant,and his wife is pleading with those people who have not yet been vaccinated to reconsider their choice.

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The Avilas’ saga began in February while they were homebound without power amid a historic winter storm, KTRK reported.

According to the TV station, Sandra Avila told her husband, Rogelio, that her chest was hurting. Within days the couple and their three children were all diagnosed with COVID-19, with both parents requiring hospitalization.

Sandra Avila was discharged one week later, but her husband was not so fortunate. Meanwhile, their then 2-year-old son was hospitalized after developing multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare but known COVID-19 complication in children, KTRK reported.

And then, Sandra Avila heard the most heartbreaking words she can recall.

“If (Rogelio) doesn’t progress in the next 48 hours, you’re going to have to start bringing your family in so that we can go ahead and give him his final goodbyes,” his doctor told her, according to the TV station.

Fortunately, Rogelio Avila improved enough to be considered for a double-lung transplant, which he received several weeks ago, meaning he will soon head home after the six-month ordeal. The procedure can be an option of last resort for COVID-19 patients who cannot be weaned from a ventilator or an artificial lung that oxygenates blood, Bloomberg reported.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, hospitals nationwide have reported a rise in lung transplants for severe coronavirus cases, often the only option remaining for severe COVID-19 patients who experience widespread and life-threatening lung damage, a hyper-inflammatory immune response to the damage and the body’s failure to properly repair the injury, the outlet reported.

The progression, referred to as a “honeycomb change” because of the yellow fibrotic scar tissue left behind, essentially solidifies the lungs, David Kleiner, who heads autopsy pathology in the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, said.

Specifically, Kleiner told Bloomberg that “honeycomb change” irreversibly destroys the alveoli, the tiny grape-like air sacs in the lungs that allow for gas exchange, and can occur within a few weeks of damage.

“Patients really only survive to that fibrotic stage if they are intubated,” he told the outlet.

According to Bloomberg, doctors at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital performed the first double-lung transplant in a U.S. COVID-19 case in June 2020 and have since performed nearly two dozen more, Ankit Bharat, the hospital’s chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of lung transplantation, wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association in June.

“We are seeing a significant surge in patients who recovered from moderate to severe COVID-19 and are now coming to the outpatient setting with progressive oxygen requirements and pulmonary fibrosis,” Bharat added.

For Sandra Avila, the complicated procedure has given her husband a second chance they have no intention of squandering, and that means imploring others to do their part to not only limit the continued spread of the virus but also to safeguard immunocompromised patients, especially transplantation patients, KTRK reported.

“Why would anyone want that to happen to them when they could have prevented it, you know? I just think the vaccine is a form of protecting yourself,” she said.

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